Having been made redundant during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mark Rodgers of Cheese on Towcest’ in Northamptonshire took the plunge and decided to launch his very own online cheesemonger business.
What’s the story behind your business?
I’ve always been obsessed with cheese and have always wanted to be a cheesemonger – I just love cheese and everything about it! A few years ago I started making cheese for friends and family, experimenting with different types and processes. By researching different cheeses and how they were made I developed a deeper understanding of artisan cheeses and the stories behind them including the amazing people who make it.
It was during the first lockdown in 2020 and being on furlough that gave me the push I needed to realise a lifelong dream to become a cheesemonger. I became aware of how the pandemic was affecting the cheese industry with stories of farmers having to throw milk away and cheese spoiling in other dairies. I knew I had to do something so I set up Cheese on Towcest’ with the idea of bringing artisan cheese from across the UK to my local area in South Northamptonshire.
What products and services do you offer?
The main product, and where it all began, is the monthly cheese selection box. I research and choose four different cheeses from around the UK and Ireland each month along with locally made chutney and crackers. I started with delivering the boxes, which come with tasting notes, to people within a certain distance of Towcester and as demand grew and word got out, we began offering a national delivery service.
I also offer bespoke cheese packages for birthdays, weddings and other events as well as having a stall at several markets in the area.
Did you have any apprehension about starting a business during Covid-19?
Because there was so much uncertainty about everything during the pandemic, it didn’t feel like I was taking too much of a risk. It was a case of testing the water and at first, having a bit of fun with it – seeing people’s faces when I deliver them a box of delicious cheese made it all worthwhile!
How have you been spreading the word about your business?
It has mainly been through word of mouth in the local area so far. It’s the name that seems to catch on with people at first, it makes them laugh! There’s a lot to be said too about the local business community; I have made so many friends with people who are equally as passionate about what they do. Social media has been a great way of getting the word out as well.
What support did you have when starting the business?
Financially, as we started off small, it was minimal investment – it was more about the time taken to research and taste all the cheese (somebody had to do it!) It was a big help being on furlough from my job and took the pressure off somewhat. I have had a huge amount of support from friends and family, many of whom have played their part, whether it’s being taste testers, creating labels or helping with photography.
What’s the market like for your business?
What I do is quite niche in the market because many of the other cheese sellers in the area are also producers and I buy from them to sell at the markets and in the monthly boxes. We help each other out. In terms of online cheesemongers, it is a fairly populated market, however what makes me unique is the personal touch in terms of hand-delivering in the area and I am also committed to shining a spotlight on the smaller, independent cheese makers.
What’s the most important decision you’ve made so far?
To invest in a new bespoke website which does everything I need it to including potential subscription services further down the line and delivery options. It’s very exciting seeing it being developed and I know will make a big difference for the customer experience.
What is one thing that would make running your business a lot easier?
Having somebody to do all the admin/accounting side of things! That would then give me more time with the cheese and customers.
Best and worst thing about running a business?
Best – seeing the joy (and surprise) on people’s faces when I turn up with a box of cheese in time for breakfast. There was a lady who ordered cheese for her daughter’s birthday and the morning I delivered it, her daughter had just given birth. Being part of those special moments is a privilege.
Worst – it’s 24/7; I’m constantly thinking about ideas and what to do next, it can be hard to switch off, especially when I dream about cheese too!
Any regrets or something you wished you’d done differently?
No regrets at all, I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason and actually I have been fortunate enough to have been able to grasp an opportunity to do something that I love during such a difficult time.
What are your hopes for the business?
I hope it continues to grow and we are able to showcase even more cheese makers and the hard work that goes into what they do. I’d love to see the industry continue to rebound and there are so many opportunities to grow Cheese on Towcest’ and diversify the products and services further, perhaps with more events and bespoke packages. There is so much scope with cheese.
What’s one thing you wish you’d known before you started?
I wish I’d have known how much fun and an adventure it was going to be because I’d have done it sooner!
What are your three golden rules for success?
- Honesty is the best policy.
- Don’t rush into a decision before considering everything.
- Do your research; know your market and your products (I mean, who doesn’t want to taste cheese?)